Boost Your Approach to Benefits With These Tips

Although health care reform will pose new challenges in 2013, HR decision-makers can arm themselves with the knowledge and tools they need to market, educate and communicate about benefits offerings to more effectively promote employee satisfaction and retain top talent. Taking a customized, informed approach to benefits can help create and maintain a strong workforce not only in the new year, but in the long term. Here are some best practices.

Understand the new health care law. More than four in 10 (43 percent) American workers identified rising out-of-pocket expenses and health insurance costs as the most important issues right now, and 38 percent are very or extremely concerned about the possibility of an unanticipated medical expense, according to the 2012 Aflac WorkForces Report.

Important elements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) will take effect in a year, meaning these health care concerns will likely remain top of mind for employees in 2013. Regardless of whether a company’s benefits will change, HR managers should serve as a trusted resource, be prepared for questions on PPACA and understand how it will affect employees. By staying up-to-date on new developments resulting from the legislation, HR managers can support workers with critical information year-round.

Expand benefits offerings. HR decision-makers should not only understand the nuances of the changing health care landscape, but should also conduct an internal assessment of their existing major medical offerings. Are the offerings competitive? Do they meet the needs of the workforce? What needs are going unmet? Determine whether gaps exist and identify products to fill those gaps.

Employees will look to their employers for benefits programs and products that can provide additional financial protection. As innovations drive up costs for medical services and treatments, there is an increased demand for voluntary insurance plans — such as critical illness, hospital indemnity, accident and short-term disability — that help to offset unexpected out-of-pocket expenses.

Communicate effectively. HR managers should understand employees’ changing needs and communication preferences. Distributing company surveys to gauge employees’ preferred benefits communication methods can prevent HR managers from falling victim to the one-size-fits-all mindset. The U.S. workforce increasingly continues to be diverse now more than ever. Business decision-makers should consider multiple ways to communicate benefits offerings — from an online benefits portal and hosting Q&A sessions with insurance providers to customized benefits booklets and employee newsletters — that reflect the varying generations, gender and marital status of their employees.

Promote employee well-being. To help keep health care costs down, employers should encourage workers to be proactive about their health. Today’s wellness programs use education, reminders and even incentives to promote exercise, healthy eating, quitting smoking and regular doctor exams. These are simple ways to help employees to take steps to improve their physical health and overall well-being.

In addition to creating a healthier workforce, wellness programs can offer cost-saving benefits. According to the Aflac study, 44 percent of companies that sponsor wellness programs are able to offer insurance plans with lower premiums.

Consider offering cost-effective benefits. HR managers should consider providing comprehensive benefits packages that includes voluntary insurance to better serve their employees. Plus, it doesn’t add benefits cost to the company. Voluntary insurance can help with high out-of-pocket expenses associated with a serious illness or accident.

Audrey Tillman is executive vice president of corporate services at Aflac. She can be reached at